It is morning in Angouleme and the rain is gently trickling down my neck when I go out into the street. The air is grey and depressing, but I am in a fantastic mood despite that because I am going to meet my biggest heroine and the artist who has been the hugest inspiration for me during my art career… Claire Wendling.
I almost found her when I was in Angouleme last, 15 years ago. I was stalking the booths of the festival asking all her publishers where she was, and the closest I came, was when someone pointed her out in the crowd. When I squeezed through, to the spot, she was gone. But to day, it is finally happening. We have a coffee appointment at a bar where she told me to meet her.
When I look up from the map on my phone to the bar, I am sure it is the wrong place. The bar looks like it was a garage yesterday and someone hung up a beer sign during the night and added some benches and a counter while they were at it. There are only old French guys at the desk. One of them shouting drunk already with a glass of red wine in front of him, even if it is only 9 o’clock in the morning. Surely the inspiration of my life would never go to a place like this?
2 minutes later she arrives.
When I get nervous I start talking. I think Claire didn’t get to say much except “Hello” and “Are you Jesper from MuddyColors?”, for a long time. But as soon as I started relaxing, so did my mouth and a real conversation began about art.
She excused for the meeting spot, but it turned out it is one of the cafes she goes to, for sketching.
“I leave my home every day, to do some doodles at a cafe, mostly to change scenery, because I often get restless at home. I am not a very patient artist, Jesper. I am a bit hyperactive and need to get up and do something else every half an hour: Doodling at cafes is a vent for that. This place, I know I can be left alone and I do not need to talk to anyone or relate to other artists, like I do if I go to some of the places closer to the centre”, she tells me. “Ever since I recovered from a serious kidney failure, sketching has been my way back into drawing. I did not draw for almost 2 years and felt very sick and couldn’t create anything. But as I recovered, slowly I found out I was missing something in my life and started sketching again.”
“I have been wondering what you do for a living. Do you work at concepts you cannot show or how do you earn money as an artist?”
“It has been hard. I needed to get back to working again. I do not have a lot of assignments, so doodling out different small projects seems to work best for me. Like the series of small foxes in watercolours I did. I needed to make some money and sold them from my facebook page.”
“So you are not doing comics anymore?”, I ask.
“I haven’t for at least 15 years. Comics is a lot of work and takes so long time. I am really not that patience. I like better to design characters and figures. Comics is way too time consuming. It was never my thing, really”
I guess my bewilderment is obvious in my face because she laughs at me. “But didn’t you go to a comic book school here in Angouleme?”, I say.
“No. It was an art school. I thought they had an animation line. It said so in the form when I applied, but after I got in and started at the school, they told me the line was closed down and there was only comics left, and I thought: Well I like comics too, so I started there. It was more of a coincidence.”
“Are you going to collect all the cafe doodles into yet another sketchbook? I have all the books you put out yet and they are a huge inspiration. Skipping through your sketchbooks here I cannot wait to see them in a collection”, I am fighting down my impulse that tells me to grab the 3 small books in my hands and start running out of the cafe.
“Yes, that was the plan,” she says. “Me and my husband are working on a collection right now. It would be the best way for me to earn some money. Seems like I am not getting many assignments these days. I have been out and away for too long because of my illness. It has been almost 4 years now that I have been sick. The most recent illustration I did was a Cat Woman cover for DC, but mostly it has been kind of slow. I also had some concept art for Disney but it was only for 10 days.”
I am shaking my head in disbelieve at this. How can Claire ‘Fucking’ Wendling be struggling for assignments? My world is turned upside down, my head is spinning but yet, I am smiling and laughing like a clown, get yourself together Jesper!
“Claire, you have been and incredible inspiration to me. When I started looking at your stuff I noticed a difference. I mean, most artists can do a figure standing straight up holding a sword. But your characters had small strange gestures, they were holding the weapons differently or posed awkwardly and had a certain kind of beauty to them. The way your figures were capturing a pose got me to rethink everything I new about figure painting and I started looking for those lines and gestures myself. What is it you think of when you are doing a character? What is your mindset for this?”
“It is hard to explain: I just doodle and see where the lines take me. Suddenly something comes up and I go with it., because every sketch stands upon the shoulders of countless other sketches. To me sketching is like taking notes of thoughts. You practice and practice to build up that sense of shape, form and beauty, but not to just do beautiful drawing or paintings. I think too many artist are obsessed with doing a perfect drawing every time. It is not about doing a nice drawing every time, it is about being able to do a nice drawing when you need it. That is why you practice, that is why I doodle. When I was a child I was a lonely girl, mostly playing with my plastic animals and drawing them a lot. I did not have any siblings so I drew to pass time. Perhaps that is why I still like to draw animals? Much of my ability to draw animals come from that time”.
“Have you thought about teaching?” ( Now. I am only thinking in my mind: Because then you could teach me how to be you)
“Most of the time I have no clue of what I am doing. I have no technical approach. The way I draw, I let the hand do most of the work and my mind search for lines to use. It is all about instinct. You cannot teach people that. You have to go out and collect happy accidence yourself.
When you do a sketch of a girl and you have trouble getting a special angle right, subconsciously your mind go back to previous drawings and your borrow something from them, a solution show itself from your experience in doing it before. I look back in my sketchbooks and find something usable. I think that is why I keep sketching. Or taking notes of what is in my mind, if you like.
It is a matter of flow. Sometimes when you are tired and the mind turns off, you get into that stage.
Flow is very important. It is something you hear about in sports too and music. I discover that when I am in it, everything goes smoothly, but as soon as I start thinking too much about it, I start slipping out of it. Ohh noo! Do not go away, and suddenly you are out of it. I find, that sitting at a cafe, away from home and thoughts about bills to pay and people on Facebook writing and talking, lets me slip into a good flow easier. I always turn off the sound of my devices so I do not get pulled away from it when I am sketching.”
“Do you have any struggles, Claire. Something you find hard to do in drawing?”, I ask.
“Yes, perspective and environment. I have not been doing that a lot, and I find it a bit boring.”
“Me too”, I happily agree. “Would you mind drawing something, perhaps a cat, while I film it? I would really love to see how you start a drawing?
“I do not know, Jesper. I am really not good at drawing in front of a camera, like I told you, if it gets too consious it becomes restrained. But okay. I will try. I will not promise it will be good. I am glad you asked me to do an interview for Muddycolors. I have been following the blog and find it very interesting to read the personal experiences from you guys”.
(My eyes becomes misty. I am sure she is talking about only my articles )
I start filming and immediately notice that she is starting out with an almost perfect outline. Not at all how I had imagined it. I thought she would be building it up slowly with thin lines looking for shapes, but it turns out she does the whole shape searching afterwards within the outlined form. My hand holding the camera is shaking a bit. I realize I am watching Claire Wendling drawing and remember how many times I have wished for this moment. I try not to blink.
When I leave a couple of hours later we arranged to meet again tomorrow. My friends from the studio would like to purchase some originals from her. I cradle the sketch she pulled out of her sketchbook to my heart. This has been one of the most rewarding days in my life. I run back to the house to the other guys and start blabbering about it all…